Come On Down!
Sunday, 3 November 2019 11:00
When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today." (Luke 19:5)
My project continues to reference every television series I remember from my childhood in a sermon. Today I’d like to begin with a game show called, “The Price Is Right”. It featured a guy called Leslie Crowther and it would start with members of the audience being called down to take part in the game to win some amazing prize, like a washing machine. Do you remember the catch-phrase? “Come on down!”
That’s Jesus’s call to Zacchaeus in this story. “Zacchaeus of Jericho, come on down!” I’d like to spend a few minutes today thinking about this story because, as is so often the case with the way Luke recounts the stories of Jesus, it’s full of little details and choices of word that explode with meaning. Firstly let’s notice that the initiative is with Jesus. “When Jesus came to the place,” Luke says, “he looked up to him and said,”. Come on down! Sure, Zacchaeus may have been interested and intrigued to find out who Jesus was, but it is Jesus who takes the intitative and reaches out to him.
We are the Church. We are the body of Jesus Christ on Earth. We are meant to offer to those around us the gift that God offers humanity in Christ. We cannot necessarily do it from within the walls of a building like this one. We have to take the initiative. We have to go to where people are, rather than expecting them to come to us. We have to offer the invitation that Jesus offers Zacchaeus: “Come on down!” - not necessarily to roll up here on a Sunday morning (though that would be nice) but to accept the love of God in Jesus Christ.
Which can seem intimidating in the world we live in. We can feel diffident about talking about our faith. We can feel that we might be accused of “shoving our religion down peoples’ throats. The thing is, though, that I’m not talking about hammering on peoples’ doors and saying, “Hi. can I interest you in the Good News of Jesus Christ?” Part of our aversion to that idea is that we get the idea that no one will want to listen, but the truth is that people are often curious about faith. They are like Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus had probably heard about Jesus. He’d seen the way that a crowd was gathered around him and he was intrigued. He wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
There are people out there right now who - though they might not admit it - are curious about what we believe, why it’s important to us and why we come along here on a Sunday morning. Maybe all it takes is to live out our lives, in our communities, in the organisations we belong to, in the places we shop and in the valueswe live by; to be open about our faith and beliefs to make someone - maybe a friend or a neighbour or a colleague - start to wonder what it’s all about and to climb their own sycamore tree to find out. To listen for a voice saying, “Come on down!”
This is what, I sometimes think, the Church misses. We set out policies and plans for evangelising - for offering the love of God in Jesus Christ to people, but we so often do it as an institution. The problem with the plans of institutions is that they are like a large ship at sea - they’ve got a pretty big turning circle and it’s hard to stop on a dime and take an opportunity to spread the Gospel. That’s where we - each of us - has an edge. The first sentence in Luke’s recounting of this story says that Jesus entered Jerusalem and was passing through it. His plan was to be on his way, but his encounter with Zacchaeus changed that plan: “I’m staying with you”.
Sometimes, in our lives, we have a chance to tell people that they matter. We have a chance to tell someone who’s at the end of their chain that they matter. We have a chance to tell someone who has been told that they are nothing but a bit of biological flotsam floating in an uncaring universe and existing only to pass on their DNA and buy stuff that they are a precious child of God; that their capacity to love - our capacity to love as human beings - is the most special, most wonderful, most beautiful thing in Creation because it marks us out as children of God. In those times we can hold out our hand to them and say, “Come on down!”
If we can do that then we can challenge some of the biggest misrepresentations of Christianity that there are out there. One I came across in discussion online with a guy is that you can only get to Heaven if you’ve “been good” and he went on to say that this was all about the Church wanting to control people and live by their rules. I responded that the forgiveness of God is offered freely - all you have to do is accept it honestly. He replied, “Who would be stupid enough to refuse that?” I answered, “I think you’re better placed to answer that than I am” Maybe that got him thinking. I hope so.
One more detail from Luke’s recounting of this story: the tree Zacchaeus climbs is a sycamore tree - a helicopter tree we called them when I was a kid. The seeds form blades like a helicopter that mean they float softly and safely to earth. The offer Christ makes to him is to come down, not with a hard bump, but softly, without punishment for anything he has done in his life: it’s not conditional on giving his wealth to the poor or recompensing folk he’s injured - those are things he offers in response to the call of God: “Come on down!”
Come on down to the greatest prize there is - eternal life lived in the presence of the loving God who made us to love one another. Come on down and find that every stupid thing you’ve done in your life - all the times you’ve passed on malicious gossip or smugly looked down on someone else or whatever - can be wiped away and forgotten. Come on down and take the opportunity to live a better life - a life that is informed by the love of God; a love in which everyone you meet is your brother or sister; a love in which anyone can find a home; a love in which defies division, offers hope, transcends differences and embraces the lost.
“Come on down!” Jesus says to Zacchaeus. Come on down, not to win the prize, but simply to accept it: to accept the love of God in Jesus Christ. That’s the offer Jesus makes to Zacchaeus - be like a seed of that sycamore tree you’ve climbed into and come softly down to accept the love of God - a love that asks no more of you than that you try; that you try to be what you are meant to be - a child of God, made in the image of God, caring for those less fortunate than you are and being honest with yourself about your failings knowing always that those failings are forgiven.
“Come on down!” That should be the message of the Church to the people of this country and around the world. “Come on own to the greatest prize there is!” The Church is you. It’s me. In so far as we make that offer in the way we live and the values we stand by and in the way we live out and speak about our faith, we are Christ at the foot of the sycamore tree.
Lord, when we can, may we be like your son. May we offer your love as freely as he did. May we profess our faith honestly and openly in the world that those we know might come to listen for your voice inviting them to stay with you as you stay with them
Preached at Gretna Old parish church